Kashmir: A Nikah Nama Annulled
A ‘Restoration of Democracy’ march, part on feet and part on vehicles, was planned from Jammu to Srinagar between 26th November and 1st December, 2019 after the decision of Government of India earlier on 5th August to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A and to divide the state into two Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Laddakh.
When the march started on 26th November from the Press Club in Jammu with over fifty people, the police stopped it before it reached a main road and told us that we could not proceed on foot. They, however, allowed it to go on vehicles. The marchers then assembled at a nearby Gurudwara and about 30 of them went ahead in five vehicles. Prominent among the marchers were Sheikh Abdul Rehman, former Member of Parliament from J&K and two times Member of Legislative Assembly from Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Sunilam.
The group reached its destination for the day at Udhampur and distributed a pamphlet prepared for the march. The next morning, the police prevented the group from holding a press conference. The march then proceeded towards its second, Ramban. Local political leader Amrit Varsha received the march with much fanfare. Slogans were raised for restoring the pre-5th August status and a press conference was held. On the 28th November, after a public meeting was held, the police arrived and threatened journalists to not cover the march and asked the march to return to Jammu because the road to Srinagar is blocked because of landslides.
The police vehicles followed the march and ensured that they crossed the Ramban district border on the way back to Jammu. However, six marchers, decided to make an attempt to directly reach Srinagar by a shared taxi and were successful on the second attempt on 29th November. In Srinagar, the group met with the Communist Party of India leader Ghulam Mohammad Mizrab in his village Poshpora activists of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society, the Haq Insaf Party in Srinagar and locals. The group also interacted with security personnel deployed at the site who had been serving there for a long time.
Sentiments expressed by people ranged from disappointment to anger at the way Union Government has handled the situation. G.M. Mizrab says that there were three kinds of people in J&K, one who had accepted being part of India, second who aspired for independence from India and Pakistan both and third who looked towards Pakistan with some hope, although the latter two segments had realised over a period of time that their dreams were not practical and had shrunk in size.
Most Kashmiri families have some connection with India, either their children are studying in some educational institutions or they have business interests in India. But after the 5th August, when even pro-India leader Dr. Farooq Abdullah was put under house arrest, the majority in Kashmir have turned against India. Mizrab says that even though he would prefer to be with India, he has been deeply hurt by the decision and thinks it is taking away his identity. A college teacher put it more succinctly, Articles 370 and 35A were like nikah-nama (document of marriage) between India and J&K and the by abrogating these articles India has annulled the marriage. The link between India and J&K has been severed and the alienation is now complete.
Another college teacher said previously they were not so conscious of Indians coming to J&K but now they view them with suspicion. It is what the British rule was for India. Khurram Parvez of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) informed that about 3.5 to 5 lakhs migrant labourers have also been sent back to India before 5th August just like the tourists and it may not be a surprise that after some time Kashmiris may be blamed for this just like they are blamed for driving out the Kashmiri Pandits, even though they were evacuated on the pretext of some planned action against militants, which has now prolonged.
The group of marchers also saw vacant houses belonging to Kashmiri Pandits on the border of Shopian district and Pulwama in addition to a colony established for Hindu government employees here. It doesn’t appear that there is any problem in common Kashmiris belonging to any religion living together as they emphasise that their culture is Kashmiriyat and the sect of Islam practised here is Sufi.
Economic life seems to be limping back to normalcy, with business and economic activity going on for several hours during the day, but the fact is that the four-month long clampdown has broken the economy which was further affected by bad weather. The apple industry suffered the worst. Producers could not meet the demands of buyers due to the lack of labourers and restrictions in transportation. The trees have been damaged due to early snow which will take about a decade to re-grow. It is being claimed that in Jammu region, especially the larger Hindu population, is happy with government’s decision, but the fact is that economy of this region is tied with Kashmir and has also suffered badly. People in Kashmir now want to bypass Jammu and want to do business with other regions of the country.
When one of the marchers, Amit Maurya, took a photograph of an empty classroom in a school in Haval on 30th November, 2019, the teachers present panicked. They would not let him leave until he deleted the photograph from his mobile phone. In spite of the claims being made by the Home Minister, the fact is that except for the Board examinations, the questions papers were taken by teachers to homes of students of all other classes and answers brought back to the school.
It is not clear when the economy or education will return to normalcy but the most serious damage that the government has done is to politics. There is no sign of the revival of the political process. While the Bhartiya Janata Party has realised the political agenda of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in J&K, it is preventing other Parties from carrying out their activities. There is a ban on political activity, especially related to Articles 370 and 35A.
Government employees have been made to sign an agreement to be part of one of the two Union Territories. The people who were arrested are being released after 10-15 community members are made to sign bonds guaranteeing that the person being released will not take part in any activity opposing the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A.
The government doesn’t want any other voice than its own. Most newspapers are carrying government advertisements or reporting government and apolitical events. The bureaucracy and security establishment is dominating the politics. There doesn’t seem to be any hope for restoration of democracy yet. Senior activist of JKCCS Pervez Imroz asks how can there be democracy in a situation of occupation, either before 5th August or after that?
Sandeep is with Socialist Party(India) and Rajendran teaches at Azmi Premji University